Introduction to L.A.'s Diverse Dining Scene

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Introduction to L.A.'s Diverse Dining Scene
Los Angeles is the center of California cuisine, with a focus on local ingredients, sustainable practices, diverse fusion techniques, and attention to all things artisanal.
By Susan Mason, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Susan Mason
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    Italian Heritage in L.A.
    L.A. may have an obsession with healthy eating, juice cleanses, and workouts, but that doesn't mean the city doesn't love its creamy, saucy, doughy Italian. Pizza, pasta, and burrata can be found all over the city, from the breakout hit 800 Degrees Pizzeria (an upscale build-your-own-pie-style pizza joint that goes heavy on the mozzarella) to classic haunt Osteria Mozza. Downtown L.A.'s Bestia is another must-try. Run by a husband and wife power team, the restaurant is widely known for its roasted marrow bone and melt-in-your-mouth tortellini.
    Photo by Susan Mason
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    No Frills Eats in L.A.
    Los Angeles has no shortage of upscale restaurants to choose from, but its no-frills classic counterparts are just as worth the trip (and even more so after a night of bar-hopping). Pink's Hot Dogs is the city's most famous quick bite, churning out thousands of specialty dogs a day. In Westwood, the most popular after-hours spot is Fat Sal's, where the sandwiches come with unique ingredients—think mozzarella sticks and chicken tenders—stuffed between two slices of hearty bread. Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica is also known for its generously portioned sandwiches, which are made-to-order with fresh ingredients off to the side in the gourmet market. And then, of course, there's the crowning jewel of no frills eating in the city: In-N-Out, the iconic burger chain known for its Double-Doubles and animal-style fries. 

    Photo by Susan Mason
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    Café Culture in L.A.
    Los Angeles has been stepping up its coffee game in recent years with independent neighborhood shops popping up throughout the city. These new cafés provide unique spaces for socializing over skillfully crafted cups of coffee, whether locally roasted or made from specialty beans. Intelligentsia’s two Los Angeles locations—on Abbot Kinney in Venice and at Sunset Junction in Silver Lake—are pillars at the crossroads of caffeinated creativity. Alfred Coffee has locations all over town, but it's the Melrose Place iteration that's iconic. Urth Caffe is one of the city's most popular coffee and café-style dining spots, with organic beans, vegan desserts, and a reputation for drawing celebrities.
    Photo by Susan Mason
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    Sweet Treats in L.A.
    Los Angeles has a soft spot for all things sweet. No matter the neighborhood, fresh pastries, cupcakes, gelato, or ice cream are always nearby. There are classics like Diddy Riese’s build-your-own ice cream sandwiches in Westwood; novelties like the seasonal, unexpected flavors at Salt & Straw in Larchmont and Venice; and landmarks like Randy’s Donuts, whose massive doughnut sign (and delicious flakey doughnuts) lure you from just off of the 405. Innovative bars serve boozy sweet creations to patrons, as well—try the alcohol-soaked snow cone at Good Times at Davey Wayne's.

    Photo by Nyssa C.
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    Farm Fresh Dining in L.A.
    Los Angeles has been at the forefront of fusing fresh, locally-grown ingredients with international culinary inspiration for decades. Restaurateurs and chefs take pride in their relationships with nearby farms and farmers' markets, and value sustainable and organic practices. Downtown's Kismet sources from local farmers whenever possible, while Wolfgang Puck's Spago deals with seasonal ingredients on its rotating menu. West Hollywood's Lucques prides itself on local ingredients sourced from farms with sustainable or organic practices, and Downtown's Broken Spanish has a love affair with seasonal veggies from nearby farms. 

    Photo courtesy of Café Gratitude
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    L.A.’s Brunch Tradition
    Brunch is an institution in Los Angeles. Restaurants are packed on Saturdays and Sundays with couples on dates and groups of chatty friends sipping coffee or breakfast cocktails. Chefs add their creative twists to comfort food classics—such as the bits of bacon and cheddar in the buttermilk biscuits at MB Post, cactus flour in the buckwheat pancakes at Sqirl, flavored mimosas at Sonoma Wine Garden, or the pulled pork breakfast burritos at Sunny Spot. Weekends aren’t the only time to enjoy breakfast. LA landmarks include the Griddle Cafe, which serves a variety of flavorful pancakes that spill over the plate, and Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles, which serves soul food classics all day long.
    Photo by Susan Mason
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    Farmers' Market and Food Truck Specialties
    Farmers' markets and food trucks rotate among neighborhoods each day of the week. Farmers' markets bring the best of local farms to the city in specialized stalls for fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts, while food trucks bring their specialized dishes on a mobile tour to those in the know. The permanent Farmers Market at The Grove is a landmark, and the Santa Monica, Hollywood, and Silver Lake farmers' markets are community staples. Food truck favorites include the gourmet Grilled Cheese Truck, Kogi’s Korean BBQ tacos, Taco Zones' mini quesadilla “Mulitas,” Lobsta Truck’s loaded lobster rolls, and Coolhaus's gourmet ice cream.
    Photo courtesy of Eric Shin/Kogi BBQ
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    The Art of Drinking in L.A.
    Cocktails are an art form in Los Angeles, with bartenders held to standards as high as those expected of chefs. Some bars specialize in a specific spirit: Thirsty Crow and Seven Grand for whiskey, La Descarga and Caña Rum Bar for rum. Angel City Brewery, which opens its Downtown brewhouse to patrons for drinks and games in the evenings, has one of the city's most impressive craft beer selections. Many swanky L.A. bars offer unique takes on the craft cocktail trend, so when it comes to choosing the perfect night out, atmosphere is also a huge factor. The ritzy rooftop bar Perch has that in spades, as does the Standard's clubby rooftop. If you're looking for a more laid-back vibe, Button Mash serves drinks alongside a plethora of old-school arcade games. 

    Photo courtesy of The Eveleigh
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    Just the Classics
    Retro diners from America’s golden years dot Los Angeles. Their original décor elicits nostalgic memories even among visitors too young to have them. In this city, the old Hollywood glamor is apparent at places like Musso & Frank Grill, which has been a Hollywood staple since 1919. The vendors within Grand Central Market have changed over the years, but the space has been a gathering spot for hungry Angelenos since 1917. There's also The Apple Pan (1947) for hamburgers, Brite Spot (1949) for sweet potato fries, and Rae’s (1958) for biscuits and gravy. If you're en route to or from LAX, Pann's (1958) fluffy biscuits still reign. For tasty food almost any time of day or night, these spots are sure to satiate. And don't forget to order a shake!
    Photo by Susan Mason
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    Delicious Diversity in L.A.
    The best way to experience the variety of culture in Los Angeles is through the diverse food of its ethnic enclaves—Koreatown, Little Osaka, Little Brazil, Thai Town, Chinatown, Little Ethiopia, and Little Armenia to name but a few. The populous Jewish community of West Hollywood has bred delicious delis like Canter’s and Greenblatt’s. Italian has permeated the city with opulent dining destinations like Osteria Mozza and more casual spots like Terroni. Japanese tradition has modernized and found its way to L.A. in Chaya and Tsujita. The best Mexican is found in food trucks, but tasty spots like Guisados and Broken Spanish have the added draw of a trendy atmosphere.
    Photo by Susan Mason